Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Symposium: Session 4
The fourth session of the Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Symposium and the final session on this first day is titled “Greenbelters on the Move: Public Transportation for a Pedestrian City.” “While Old Greenbelt is one of America’s most pedestrian-friendly suburban locales and while Greenbelt East and Greenbelt West also enjoy many natural and recreational amenities, major roads hamper connections between the city’s three sections. This session will explore how this situation came to the fore and its possible remedies.”
Thomas Zeller, Associate Professor in history at the University of Maryland, is the moderator. He says that this session is about “moving to Greenbelt, within Greenbelt and how this has changed over the past few decades.”
Lee and Bonnie Shields, longtime residents of Greenbelt, give their personal recollections on public transportation from 1940 to 1960. Here Lee Shields shows their “Powerpoint” presentation—a collection of old photos and newspapers clippings about trains, trolleys, roads, floods, and even barnstormers.
Bonnie Shields moved with her family to Berwyn Heights in 1939, and her father soon left to serve in World War II. Her mother had a car but gasoline was rationed and she traded sugar and meat stamps for gas stamps. Her mother taught at Edmonston and to get there from home, she had to first walk a mile to Berwyn (where she also picked up their family mail), caught a street car to Hyattsville, and then walked another mile to Edmonston. Shields recalls getting her first bike third hand: “It was freedom.” There were no cars on the road. Two Maryland governors were important in terms of transportation: Governor William Preston Lane, Jr. who started the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Governor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin who built a lot of the interstate highways in Maryland. Shields talks about floods, trolleys, trains, and airports (including Greenbelt’s own Schrom Airport).
Lee Shields was born in D.C. in August 1937 and moved with his family to Greenbelt in November 1937. He starts by talking about Eleanor Schrom, Fritz Schrom and Schrom Airport in Greenbelt East which is now Schrom Hills Park and “lots of subdivisions.” His dad Bill Shields had to get to Central High School every weekday morning to finish high school (“one of the side effects of eloping”) and then work at the Interior Department in D.C until 11 p.m. He had to catch the last streetcar to Beltsville and then walk or hitch a ride home. He was fortunate to be hired as one of first three postal carriers in Greenbelt in the 1940s. The Baltimore Washington Parkway was finished in 1954, and Lee Shields was among the first group to ride on it. He also recalls a long funeral procession on the Parkway to Fort Lincoln Cemetery for Buddy Attick, Jr., one of Greenbelt’s first policemen. Soon after he started working for the Department of Agriculture, the streetcar service stopped and he had to carpool with others. “You were deemed un-American if you didn’t ride the bus, if you didn’t fully use every local business, cooperative business, if you mailed anywhere else rather than Greenbelt, and so on. But after all this is Greenbelt. We bicker, and bluster, and resolve and we find ways to work together and do things.”
Jeremy Korr earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park and his doctoral thesis was on the history of the Capital Beltway. He is now teaching at Brandman University in Irvine, California. His talk is titled “The Impact of the Parkway and Beltway.” Korr first thanks his teachers at the University of Maryland, Mary Corbin Sies and Virginia Beauchamp, who are in the audience.
Korr starts by saying that “The Beltway and the Parkway have been a mixed blessing for Greenbelt.” Opened in 1954, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway represented an upgrade in travel option from the accident prone Route 1. It made Greenbelt more accessible in the regional context. The Beltway opened in 1964 and destroyed much of the popular Indians Springs picnic areas in Greenbelt. Here Korr points to the location of the Indian Springs and says that it was a Native American meeting area and Greenbelt children collected arrowheads there. It could be reached via a path from Greenbelt Lake through the woods but now there is a storm sewer line.
The 1952 routing of the Capital Beltway bypassed Greenbelt. The Beltway was more circular in that design and would have sliced through Berwyn rather than Greenbelt. But Berwyn residents protested and in the later version the Beltway became a flattened oval and went through Greenbelt West.
Korr quotes Cathy Knepper’s book “Greenbelt, Maryland: A Living Legacy of the New Deal”: “If the homes had existed first and relationships were already formed before the barriers were put in place, it might have been possible to keep connections with these outer sections. As it occurred, with the barriers first and newer neighborhoods afterward, it proved an almost insurmountable challenge to form a cohesive Greenbelt.”
Korr concludes his lecture by playing an interview with Izzy Parker who as a draftsman designed much of the Maryland side of the Beltway and who was also a longtime cartoonist for the Greenbelt News Review. Korr asked Parker “what his thoughts were in retrospect” and Parker answered “To this day, I have a sense of pride and I’d like to tell people, hey I worked on this Beltway; I designed it. But nine times of ten, they will say, who designed these interchanges?”
Matt Johnson lives in Greenbelt East and is an urban planner at the Montgomery County Planning Department and an assistant editor at the urban planning website Greater Greater Washington. He says that he is speaking today as a Greenbelt resident and transit user. He opens by saying that Greenbelt was built as a model suburb but the model that has been widely used is instead the Levitt model with mass produced housing for automobiles. “The biggest difference between Greenbelt and the traditional auto suburbs is that Greenbelt was designed with the automobile in mind. It was not designed for the automobile.”
Johnson talks about separate pedestrian and automobile circulation systems in Old Greenbelt. There are benefits but there are also challenges for transit users as they had to get from one system to another as they board and unboard buses. Here he superimposes a map of Greenway Shopping Center on a map of Old Greenbelt and tells that to walk from the bus stop at Greenway Shopping Center to the Holiday Inn is like walking from St. Hugh’s Church to Ridge Road and Westway. It is a long walk through mostly surface parking lots. He also talks about TRU-G, Transit Riders United of Greenbelt, in which he is a member and the works it has done to save bus services around town. He concludes by saying that sustainability and walkability are the pressing issues of today and tomorrow as baby boomers age and fuel prices rise. He thinks that at the 100th Anniversary Symposium, people will be talking about how planners have dealt with these problems, “transforming these places that were designed for the automobile into places for people.”
Deborah Sward and Mark Noll talk about a study prepared for Dr. Hiro Iseki’s class at the University of Maryland. “This presentation studies walkability along Hanover Parkway and Gardenway via the Spellman Overpass.” Sward defines walkability as accessibility by walking and she says that there are two components: first, value of opportunities within reach such as goods, services, and jobs and second, cost of getting there, including danger, time and money. Accordingly, the two goals are increasing the range of opportunities and reducing the cost of travel. She says that there are many opportunities in the corridor being studied from a variety of housing types, to shopping centers, medical facilities on Hanover Parkway, recreational opportunities, and school, government, and community center.
Mark Noll talks about reducing the cost of travel. They used a Walkability Assessment Tool to study Old Greenbelt and Hanover Parkway. First on the quality of walking experience, “there is nothing memorable or unique about Greenway Center.” The sidewalk system dead ends into a massive sea of parking. It is a place designed for the automobile.
In Old Greenbelt, Noll focuses on the intersection of Gardenway and Crescent Road, the direct route to Roosevelt Center from Spellman Overpass. There is no crosswalk, the sidewalk discontinues, and cars block the pedestrian access. This is due to the fact that the designers of Greenbelt separated pedestrian walkways inside superblocks from roads for automobiles.
The study recommends maximizing opportunities by coordinating retail options through targeted leasing and coordinated marketing strategies. It also recommends “prioritizing pedestrian walkway along the direct route” and following the “complete street” design principle, with sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.
George Branyan is the chair of Greenbelt’s Advisory Planning Board and a pedestrian and bicycle transportation planner for the D.C. Department of Transportation. He talks about bicycling in Greenbelt and in particular the “battle for bike lanes.” Before the Greenbelt Metro station opened in December 1993, a group of concerned residents formed the Greenbelt Bicycle Coalition to advocate for better access from Old Greenbelt to the Metro station. They included Alan Turnbull, Bill and Mary Clarke, Rodney Roberts, and Jim Drake. The city formed a Bicycle Task Force and the bike lane battles moved from Ivy Lane to Cherrywood Lane and then Crescent Road. The Capital Office Park at Ivy Lane opposed bike lanes because they took out on-street parking. The county which owned Cherrywood Lane opposed bike lanes because they replaced one traffic lane. And people in Old Greenbelt were concerned about bike lanes going through “historic cross sections.” These battles were eventually won and bike lanes were put in. Looking toward the future, Branyan says that the goal is to create a more bike friendly city. He talks about design principles, a master plan for pedestrians and bicycles being worked on, and a bike sharing program which is successful in D.C. and is being studied in Greenbelt.
Harold Foster has worked for 18 years in the Prince George’s County Planning Department, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). His talk is titled “From Regional to Local: How Transportation Policies Affect Greenbelters.” He starts with one of the earliest federal commitments to transportation—George Washington’s proposal in 1794 for a Baltimore-Washington Post Road, which the present day Route 1. He goes on to discuss the Pershing Map (1919-1927) which became the U.S. route system and the interstate highway system under President Eisenhower (1955-58) which was inspired by the German Autobahn system. Then there was the Prince George’s County “Wedges and Corridors” plan (1964) with centers and fringes, the 1982 Prince George’s County Master Plan of Transportation which acknowledged Greenbelt’s historic street system, the Metrorail system, Governor Parris Glendening’s Smart Growth policy (“If Smart Growth won’t work in Greenbelt, it won’t work in Maryland.”), the 2002 Prince George’s County General Plan, and the 2009 Countywide Master Plan of Transportation which gives priority to transit, proposes no new, major highway construction, and invests in metropolitan centers such as Greenbelt.
In the question and answer session, a member of the audience asks in the pedestrian study of Greenbelt East whether the investigators considered “the differences in civility of the drivers toward pedestrians.” She finds that cars in Old Greenbelt stop for pedestrians trying to cross the street but drivers are much more aggressive on Greenbelt Road.
Mark Noll says that they did not consider that. He thinks that it comes down to expectations. Drivers in Old Greenbelt expect to see pedestrians however driving on Maryland 193 at 50 miles per hour is like driving on an interstate.
David Morse asks when residents can expect sidewalks and crosswalks at Gardenway and Crescent Road.
Matt Johnson says that full sidewalks and crosswalks have been proposed for Gardenway and Crescent Road, along with new bus shelters and a next bus departure sign. They are waiting for Pepco to move a utility pole and Verizon to move a switch box.
George Branyan adds that the pedestrian and bicycling master plan being worked on also has recommendations for an ADA-compliant path from the Roosevelt Center to the bus stop.
Chris Logan asks that as part of transportation planning, whether the planners consider air quality as an issue.
Harold Foster says yes. He says that because of the Clean Air Act, transportation facilities such as the Purple Line must satisfy air quality standards. At the county level, environment impact is fully considered.
Mara Hemminger asks whether there is a plan to put a bicycle trail along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway as it is being considered for widening or to allow people to carry bicycles on MARC trains during rush hours.
George Branyan says that bicycles are being considered for the MARC train and now it is common across the country to have bikes on commuter trains.
Matt Johnson says that no funding has been identified for widening Baltimore-Washington Parkway. It is being studied because Congressman Dutch Ruppersburger who lives north of Baltimore placed an earmark in the federal budget. It is not an imminent threat, he says.
Edith Beauchamp talks about the Bowie bridge across Route 197 with access paths for pedestrians and bikes and asks whether there can be a similar bridge at Route 193 crossing Baltimore-Washington Parkway. It is currently a bottleneck and has to be widened.
Harold Foster says that anything to do with the Baltimore-Washington Parkway has to go through the National Park Service. “They are not always the easiest institutional operator to work with.” He tells that the deputy director of the Park Service said that “Baltimore-Washington Parkway is not a road. It’s a park you can drive through.”
A member of the audience asks whether sound barriers are ever going to come to Greenbelt. She lives in Old Greenbelt and hears much of the noise from the Beltway.
Jeremy Korr says that when he conducted interviews with the designers of the Beltway, they said that there were no sound barriers because there were not many people living by the Beltway when it was constructed. Those who did live near were in the minority. Harold Foster says that it has not been a priority. Mayor Davis adds that sound barriers are along the newly constructed Inter County Connector because those communities were there before the highway. She tells that people have been asking about sound barriers in Greenbelt constantly but either the developer, the state or county has to find money; however, “if the Beltway is widened, we can get sound barriers.